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Self-employed who make up 72% of the music industry being let down by government as COVID-19 crisis grows, say trade bodies

By | Published on Monday 23 March 2020


Following Friday’s announcement from UK Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak regarding further economic measures the government is planning to help those negatively impacted by the escalating COVID-19 crisis, the British music industry is again calling for more solid support for freelancers and the self-employed.

On Friday, Sunak responded to concerns about companies being unable to pay staff during the shutdown required to restrict and delay the spread of the coronavirus. He announced that the government will cover 80% of any employee’s salary – up to £2500 per month – where a company is unable to make payments as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. But for freelancers he simply announced a change to the existing Universal Credit system, meaning such workers can apply for the equivalent of statutory sick pay – which is just £94.25 per week.

Since the health crisis began, music industry trade bodies have been calling for urgent action from the government to support freelancers. They have been particularly vocal on this because the music industry is staffed largely by self-employed people – as high as 72%. A significant portion of those people are performers or work in the live sector, and were therefore among the first to see their income dry up overnight as live events began to be cancelled.

Following Sunak’s announcement on Friday, those trade bodies reacted with disappointment, saying that not enough was being done to ensure that freelancers can cover their basic living costs while unable to work due to COVID-19.

UK Music’s acting CEO Tom Kiehl said: “While we welcome the much-needed help for those who are traditionally employed, the government’s proposals fall far short of the lifeline needed by the self-employed in the music industry and creative sector. The government should urgently look at setting up a Temporary Income Protection Fund for self-employed workers and freelancers”.

“The self-employed make up around 72% of the music industry and are a vital part of its success”, he went on. “They should be offered the same help as other workers who will get 80% of wages up to £2500 a month if they cannot work due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many self-employed are facing an immensely difficult time and are worried about putting food on the table, paying their rent or mortgage and other bills. The government has talked about doing the right thing. It must now do the right thing and help protect the self-employed and freelancers”.

In another statement, the CEO of the Association Of Independent Music, Paul Pacifico, said: “Today we are urging the Chancellor – Rishi, please do not ‘wash your hands’ of the self-employed. The UK economy benefits substantially from over five million self-employed and freelance workers, who also make up a massive 70% of the UK music industry. Many have lost all sources of income completely through this crisis, have been effectively overlooked and are now facing economic strife as a result”.

“We are calling on the government to extend the same support as payroll employees have been promised; a lifeline to compensate self-employed workers with up to 80% of their average earnings over the past three years, if necessary with a cap of £2500 a month”, he went on. “This could be as easily administered by HMRC as it will be for payroll employees. The self-employed have the same bills to pay as the rest of the nation’s workers and contribute just as much. They deserve the same support”.

This urgent call for action comes as a Musicians’ Union survey shows that UK musicians have already collectively lost more than £14 million of expected income since the public health emergency began. As a result, the union has announced that it has opened a £1 million fund for MU members facing “genuine and pressing hardship”.

In a video message to members, MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge said: “We have been lobbying government alongside UK Music and we are talking to our friends in the Labour Party and the Conservative Party to try and get across the point that we need some real action now on a universal basic income for freelance musicians and for other freelance workers”.

“We know through our survey that 90% of musicians have been impacted by cancellations as a result of the coronavirus”, he went on. “Help has to come from the government. We can’t expect our union to do everything”.

Elsewhere, in partnership with various other music industry trade bodies, Help Musicians has launched a website aimed at providing musicians with the latest information and support during the COVID-19 outbreak – and much of the information is relevant to any freelancer, not just musicians. You can find that at